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Oklahoma Journeys

Oklahoma Land Run, April 22, 1889


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This week, making a run from the border. One of the unique components of Oklahoma was the method of using land runs to open up various sections of our state. The first of these runs, perhaps the first such event in the known history of the world, occurred 121 years ago this week, and that's the topic of this week's Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

Most Oklahomans know about the land runs that helped open up various parts of our state. These wild events can be and are viewed as wonderful adventures. Those settlers involved themselves in a race for what some might call their last chance at making it. This week marks the 121st anniversary of the largest Oklahoma land run. Following the Civil War a somewhat rectangular chunk of land in approximately the center of present day Oklahoma was vacant until a constant campaign to open those lands finally proved effective. David L. Payne was a one-man boomer campaign fighting for years to open up these now unoccupied lands for settlement. Although Payne didn't live to see it, the land was indeed eventually opened and done so via the land run system. No other known part of the world has ever been settled in this manner and probably for good reason.

Beginning weeks before the opening date hopeful settlers gathered in border towns in Kansas all massing to prepare themselves for the great run. Horses were trained and hardened up in order to make the run as fast as possible while people stockpiled as many supplies as they could. On the celebrated day, Monday, April 22, 1889, the crowd of thousands now surrounded the border of the unassigned lands waiting for the alarm. At exactly 12:00 noon cannons along the line boomed, and the crowd surged forward as one. A mass of humanity riding horses, carriages, bicycles, even running and walking, swarmed into the area. Trains carrying hopefuls to town lots were allowed to move forward only as fast as a horse could travel, stopping in Guthrie, Edmond, and other town sites along the way. The hated Sooners quickly made their appearance, having illegally entered the land earlier than allowed, some soaping up their horses to make them appear foamy with sweat and some getting shot for their illegal actions. As a method of settlement the land run was spectacular to watch, but it proved to not be very practical at all as great numbers of complications occurred during every step of the process. From participating in the actual run, finding land, and more importantly keeping it, to filing for claims afterward, the process was full of fraud, hazards and entanglements. The chaotic nature of the event, however, apparently didn't faze officials as four other land runs took place over the next ten years.

The first Oklahoma land run was 121 years ago this week in 1889. You can learn more about the land runs and see an actual wagon that made the Land Run in 1889 on display at the Oklahoma History Center, just east of the state capitol on NE 23rd Street in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.